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Original Manuscript On Jorge Mas Canosa 1993

Gaeton Fonzi

It will be a scene reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl's classic documentary, Triumph of the Will:   A high, breathtaking panorama of the masses, a rippling ocean of people, millions packed into Havana's Plaza de la Revolución roaring waves of adulation.  And there he will be, poised high on the parapet bordering the massive marble statue of José Martí, the very spot from which Fidel Castro once gave his interminable orations.  From a distance, he is a Nixonian figure -- the same receding hairline, square jaw, swarthy jowls, brush brows over dark, darting eyes.  But he is not the passé politician, he is the new El Libertador from Miami.  He smiles smugly, raises his arms and acknowledges the thunder of acclamation.  The crowd's howling increases, reaching a crescendo of happy hysteria in a frenzied chant:

"HoooorrrrHey!  HoooorrrrHey!
Veeeva El Hey-Fay Max-eee-mo!
HoooorrrrHey!  HoooorrrrHey!
Veeeva El Hey-Fay Max-eee-mo!"


Now, see, that's what gets Jorge Mas Canosa so upset.  That is misinformation.  It is the kind of misinformation that most likely is generated by Fidel Castro himself.  How many times now has Jorge Mas Canosa said he does not want to be the next leader of Cuba?  Hundreds...well, maybe dozens...of times.  Counting, that is, from after the time he said he wouldn't mind being the next leader of Cuba.  Which was before he said he would not rule it out if the people wanted him.  At any rate, that is misinformation and Jorge Mas Canosa knew I would do it to him.  He never trusted me.

"It's not that I don't trust you," he told me one day after I had again cornered him, this time as he worked his way through a backslapping crowd of compatriots in Miami's Omni Hotel ballroom, all congratulating him for his inspirational oration at the Cuban Independence Day luncheon.  I had cornered him at a number of public functions over a two week period and, although each time he turned away my request to spend some time with him, we had gotten friendly on a superficial level.

"How are you, my friend!" he said this time, shaking my hand vigorously when I was pushed into him.

"I need to spend some time with you," I said, blocking his way.  "I need to capture the essence of your character and the passion of your mission in life."

He paused and looked up at me for a moment, as if deciding whether he would trust me.

"It is not that I don't trust you," Jorge Mas said, "but you are a journalist.  I know what you will do.  You will go to your computer and you will pull up your Nexus and you will get all the misinformation that has been printed about me in the past.  Then you will go talk with some of my enemies and they will give you additional misinformation.  Then you will write your story and it will add to the misinformation that is out there about me."

I try to make the obvious point, that I will not know what he considers misinformation unless I talk with him.

No, he shakes his head, clearly thinking:  This gringo no entiende what the hell I'm trying to tell him.

"Well, O.K.," he says.  "Here's what you can do.  You go out there and gather all the misinformation that is out there about me and write your story.  Then you can bring it to me and we'll see."

He turns and permits himself to be engulfed by the crowd.  Later, he never returns my telephone calls when I try to tell him that I have gone out there and gathered three full boxes of misinformation.  I want to ask him now why so much of it checks out.


A brief quiz to provide a perspective:

Name the one man who has had, over the last three decades, the most influence in shaping the United States government's foreign policy toward Latin America.

Right, you win the cigarro gigante!   Por supuesto, es Fidel.  Ever since he came to power 33 years ago, the U.S. government's perception of the Castro threat has governed this country's views and actions in both Central and South America.  From the Bay of Pigs to Chile to Granada to Panama, the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of lives attempting to block what it defined as Castro's attempts to export Communism.

Part two of the quiz:

Name the one man who has, over the last two decades, most influenced the U.S. government's perception of Castro and, in fact, has systematically injected steroidal doses of paranoia into that perception.

Chances are, unless you live in Miami, are among Washington's policy insiders or have a job that regularly puts your eyeball to the key hole at the White House, you haven't a clue.  Few Americans have ever heard of Jorge Mas Canosa.   Yet if it were up to him -- and his wealthy circle of Cuban-American exiles with whom the Reagan and Bush administrations have had a symbiotic relationship -- Mas would be Cuba's next Numero Uno Hombre.


Jorge Mas, at 53, is now the most politically significant Cuban in the United States.  He is viewed by key government officials as the leader of 1.2 million Cubans in exile in the United States.  His influence is unmatched in both the congressional and executive branches of the U.S. government.  He is a founder and the chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, a tax-exempt "educational" association with more than a hundred wealthy directors and trustees who annually pay "dues" of anywhere from $5000 to $50,000 each. (A few contribute more.)  Mas also controls the Foundation's lobbying arm, the Cuban American Foundation, as well as its PAC, the Free Cuba Committee.  Together they are the single most effective legislative leveraging force in Washington.  Says former Senate Foreign Affairs staffer Barry Sklar:  "The Israeli lobby could take lessons from CANF."  That's ironic because the Cuban exile lobby was originally modeled on the Israeli design.

Recently, the name of Jorge Mas Canosa has begun to pop up outside the Washington- Miami loop.  Within the last several months, largely as a result of the publicity Mas has generated in pushing for a tighter economic embargo of Cuba -- and then getting into a very public battle with The Miami Herald about it -- articles have appeared about him in a few major newspapers and at least one news magazine.  Network television is weighing in with a segment about Mas on 60 Minutes this fall.  Jorge Mas claims he has not been happy with all of the coverage.  A large part of it, he says, is misinformation.  That is why he says he stopped cooperating with the media.

But Jorge Mas knows better.  Although he complains about the critical comments and the misinformation, Mas knows he has coopted the media.  With sophisticated information control and personal persuasive abilities, he has maneuvered the media into fostering the myth he cultivates:  That he is simply an example of what his friend George Bush calls "the Cuban miracle in America."  He is a golden chip in the grand mosaic of exile success stories, a poor immigrant who starts as a dishwasher, works his ass off as a milkman and shoe salesman, gets a few breaks and, thanks to the blessing of the free enterprise system, becomes a multimillionaire contractor.

Only with Mas the myth goes further:  He takes his deep Cuban patriotism, his passionate resolve to bring democracy and freedom to his homeland, and meshes them into the good old American way of doing politics -- with money and the power of his Cuban-American constituency.  The criticism -- the misinformation -- has focused on his overzealousness, his political and financial machinations, his affinity for using money muscle to bend the system to his will.  Still, the myth provides a shadow which helps obscure him:   Sure, Mas carries clout in Washington and knows the congressional pressure points better than most Beltway insiders, but he's only a single-issue Miami Cuban.  He may play in the Big Leagues, but he's no threat to the game as long as he remains in the right-field bullpen.

But the myth does not explain the true roots and reach of Jorge Mas' power.  It does not explain what enables him to consort with world leaders and make foreign policy deals as if he were an autonomous subsidiary of the U.S. State Department.  It does not explain his ability to manipulate U.S. government agencies, to circumvent bureaucratic regulations, to have standing administrative policies modified to his benefit.  It does not reveal what induces both the present and the previous President of the United States to immediately react to his beckonings and why George Bush, especially, handles Mas with singular sensitivity, demonstrably willing to do embarrassing public flips on issues of importance to Mas.

The myth is a mask.  It does not place Mas in the proper historical context.  It does not reveal the records beneath the résumé, the tracks of his covert associations and his role in the web of clandestine schemes entwined in United States policy in Latin America for the last three decades.  The myth does not explain why so many are so fearful of Jorge Mas Canosa.  The myth does not account for those special bonds from which his power and influence now radiate.  The myth is the misinformation.


Compared with, say, Millie, Jorge Mas hasn't gotten much national recognition considering how close he has been to the epicenter of political power in America.  But somewhere in The Miami Herald's photo files there's a beautiful shot that illustrates something about his relationships at the highest levels.  It was taken a few years ago when ex-President Ronald Reagan snapped from a nap and answered a call from Mas to attend a major Foundation-sponsored rally at Miami's Orange Bowl.  Reagan, waiving his hefty ex- Presidential appearance fee, arrived in his white guayabera and set the crowd of 20,000 Cuban exiles aglow with passionate rhetoric. ("Test yourself in a vote!" the Ol' Gipper shouted directly at Fidel, pressing his combat fatigues just 250 miles away in Havana.  "Let the voices of the people be heard!")  The exiles cheered wildly and shook their "We Love You, Ron!" signs.  Then, later, Mas reminded the crowd of Ronald Reagan's long fight against Communism's evil empire and, as a token of his appreciation, handed Reagan a pair of silk boxing shorts with the lovingly embroidered inscription:  "Reagan World Champ."  The ex- President smiled proudly and held his new shorts high as photographers snapped away.  Jorge Mas, the man who brought about that historic moment, beamed.  He knew that it was a picture -- Ronald Reagan waving his shorts in a gesture of unity with the Cuban exiles -- that would make Fidel very upset, perhaps even drive him to an irrational act.  That alone was worth the price of the shorts.


It will take a few flashbacks -- History in the Making! -- to comprehend the nature of Jorge Mas' power in Washington and what appears to be his extraordinary proficiency at exploiting it:

It's 1981:  ....Jorge Mas jumps on an early flight to Washington shortly after receiving his first bright idea as chairman of the newly formed Cuban American National Foundation.  Mas declares that the Cuban exiles need their own private radio station, funded by the U.S. government, to break Fidel Castro's "information monopoly."  He is given little chance of success.  First, because there is no "information monopoly" in Cuba.  Cubans regularly listen to Miami radio, including its many stridently anti-Castro Spanish language stations.  Second, because the Voice of America is doing an effective job of providing Cubans with objective news reports about what is happening both in and outside of Cuba and other Communist countries.  Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut emerges from a meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee and says:  "No matter how thin you slice it, Radio Marti is still baloney.  This hearing alone is lionizing Castro, making him larger than life.  We are playing right into his hands."
            .....Mas is also facing opposition from the State Department's U.S. Interest Section in Havana.  Section Chief Wayne Smith claims that Radio Marti would be an unnecessary provocation that might force Castro to cancel the recent immigration accord.  Under that, Castro has agreed to release 3000 political prisoners and allow the orderly emigration of 20,000 Cubans to the United States annually.  "Radio Marti should be rejected on its own merits," says Smith.
            .....Two years later:  At the Miami headquarters of the Cuban American National Foundation corks are popping from bottles of Moet & Chandon champagne as Jorge Mas and his wealthy associates celebrate the passage of the Radio Marti legislation.  In Havana,  Wayne Smith has resigned his post and Castro has canceled the immigration accord.  Senator Paula Hawkins, the Florida Republican from Disney World, staunch loyalist of the Reagan administration and Mas' chief ball carrier on the Marti bill,  telephones her congratulations to Foundation members.  In the House, Florida Democrat Dante Fascell, long considered a liberal but closely aligned with Jorge Mas since his district turned Cuban and Mas' PAC began handing him big money, gives Mas complete credit for Radio Marti.  Says Mas modestly:  "Ronald Reagan was the star.  But we deserve an Oscar for the best supporting role."
            .....Radio Marti, placed under the U.S. Information Agency as a political compromise, winds up as an independent operation with its own budget.  Jorge Mas is named chairman of its advisory board.  Over the years it grows to a bureaucracy that consumes as much as $18 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars annually.


It's 1984:  ....Jorge Mas is vacationing in Key West.  It is a beautiful Sunday morning but Mas cannot enjoy the sunshine or the verdant tropical splendor because he is thinking of Castro and the 40,000 troops he has sent to Africa to fight with the Marxian government in Angola.  Suddenly, he springs from the chaise, blinks against the sun's brightness and declares he has an idea:  Why not repeal the Clark Amendment!  That is the 1976 law that prohibits the U.S. from funding Angola insurgents.  He hops into his bullet-proof Mercedes and tells Irma, his wife, that he is going back to Miami to "see a man."   On the way, he stops by to pick up his Foundation buddy, Tony Costa, owner of a $15 million wholesale plant business.  They knock on the door of a Miami high-rise and an old man with a hearing aid and thick glasses answers the door.  "We need your help to repeal the Clark Amendment," says Mas.  The old man points to a plastic world on his desk and says in his deep Southern drawl, "Show me where Angola is and 'splain me what it's all about."  And so Congressman Claude Pepper, another Democratic liberal who received big contributions from Mas and his PAC, becomes a sponsor of the bill that repeals the Clark Amendment. President Reagan immediately authorizes $30 million in covert funds to be sent to Angola rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.  In gratitude, Savimbi sends Mas a full-sized replica of an AK-47 carved out of ivory.


It's 1982:  ....President Reagan declares that what this country ought to do is give away money to private organizations promoting democracy abroad.  A year later, Jorge Mas suggests the idea to his favorite Democrat in Congress, Dante Fascell, now the powerful chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Fascell introduces a bill creating the National Endowment for Democracy.  Fascell successfully guides the controversial N.E.D. bill through a field of heavy fire and becomes the first chairman of its board of directors.  The law creating the Endowment specifically prohibits the use of any portion of the Federal grant for "lobbying or propaganda which is directed at influencing public policy decisions of the Government of the United States."   One of the first grants of the National Endowment for Democracy goes to the Cuban American National Foundation.  In 1988, John Nichols, a professor at Penn State, studies N.E.D. documents and discovers that the Foundation has received a total of $390,000 in Federal funds from the Endowment.  He also discovers that the amount is almost identical to the amount that Jorge Mas's Free Cuba PAC has reported in contributions and distributed to politicians helping the Foundation push anti-Castro legislation.  What goes around comes around:  In 1991, the National Endowment for Democracy gave a record $462,132 to seven anti-Cuba projects, a 257 percent increase over its 1990 funding.  It brings the total to over $1 million of taxpayers' money funneled through the N.E.D. for projects or persons connected with the Cuban American National Foundation.  The N.E.D.'s president is Carl Gershman, former aide to Jeane Kirkpatrick when she was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.  Kirkpatrick, who has been a keynote speaker at Cuban American National Foundation functions, is a friend and onetime business associate of Jorge Mas.


It's 1987:  ....Jorge Mas explodes with yet another sensational idea:  If the U.S. government can pick up the hefty tab for Radio Marti, why not a TV Marti!  President-elect Bush gives him White House backing.  There are some technical problems, this the most serious:  While Radio Marti operates on an AM frequency assigned by international agreement, TV Marti would illegally infringe on Cuba's telecasting sovereignty.  A powerful group of American broadcasting executives oppose the idea for fear that Castro could retaliate by jamming stations all over the Midwest.  Mas pulls a fast one.  He gets his close friend, Florida Senator (now Governor) Lawton Chiles to introduce legislation to create TV Marti and then, with an assist from President Bush's White House strategists, secures a 90-day "trial" appropriation of $7.5 million without either the House Foreign Affairs or the Senate Foreign Relations committees holding hearings on the plan.  There are a few glitches during the trial period:  Tethered over the Florida Keys, TV Marti's million-dollar transmission relay balloon, dubbed Fat Albert, breaks away and gets lost in the Everglades.  When Fat Albert is found and re-tethered, Castro immediately jams every telecast TV Marti attempts.  The U.S. Public Interests Section in Havana reports it cannot find anyone in Cuba who has seen TV Marti.  President Bush declares the trial period a success.  In March of 1990, TV Marti begins operating with a $16 million annual budget.  By 1992, the budget request is increased to $18.1 million.  It doesn't matter to Jorge Mas that TV Marti isn't being seen.  "The TV signal will be kept on the air," he announces.  "Even if Castro jams the signal 100 percent, we will still keep the pressure on."   One side effect:  In retaliation, Castro begins jamming Radio Marti's AM signal, which he had previously permitted to broadcast throughout Cuba.  As a result, Radio Marti must resort to a short-wave band, in direct competition with the Cuban American National Foundation's own short-wave station, La Voz de la Fundación, which has no USIA restrictions against broadcasting blatant propaganda, inciting acts of insurrection and regularly lauding Jorge Mas as the Numero Uno fighter for Cuba's freedom.


Last January....Three members of an exile guerilla group called "Commandos L," organized by Tony Cuesta and once financially supported by Mas, attempt to infiltrate Cuba and are captured.  The Miami Herald pressures the U.S. State Department to clarify its enforcement policy of the Neutrality Act prohibiting the use of U.S. territory to prepare or promote violence in Cuba.  Three officials re-affirm the government's commitment to enforcing the act and tell the Herald that the State Department has a policy of informing Cuban officials of any potential raids against their country.  Mas blows his top.  Who the hell is the U.S. Government to fink to Castro about Cuban exile plots?  Mas calls the President's son, Jeb Bush, who lives in Miami and is in business with several wealthy directors of the Cuban American National Foundation.  Young Bush goes on a local radio interview show and denies his father's administration has a policy of cooperating with Cuba.  Two days later the Herald gets a call direct from Bernard Aronson, the assistant Secretary of State who has been an honored guest at Foundation functions.  Aronson tells the Herald that the officials had "overstated" the State Department's policy, that there was no on-going policy of cooperating with the Castro regime.  One month later, President Bush himself pens an op-ed "Opinion" piece for the Herald, the first specifically written for one newspaper, reassuring Miami's Cuban exiles that his administration would never negotiate with Castro's government.


Last June:  ....A Federal judge in New York castigates the Bush Administration for its "particularly hypocritical" policy of returning thousands of Haitian refugees to "the jaws of political persecution, terror, death and uncertainty...."  The month before, hundreds of Cuban American National Foundation members gathered in Dade County Auditorium cheered when Clara del Valle, the Foundation's Exodus Program director, announced that 300 Cubans now in Russia and 150 others in Peru will receive U.S. visas.  That brings the total to 8500 Cubans -- most of whom have not been living in discomfort or even without their freedom in a third country -- who have been admitted to the U.S. under the Exodus Program.  It is a special arrangement that Jorge Mas and the Foundation have made with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.  It gives Mas his own immigration program, and a constant flow of new political loyalists.  The Foundation is permitted to bring Cubans residing in another country into the U.S. as permanent residents, as long as their trip is sponsored and two years of health insurance is paid in advance.  It is the only such arrangement the government agency has with a private organization.  The government even gives the Foundation financial aid for it.  Last year, the State Department awarded a $1.7 million grant to the Foundation for the Exodus project.  Although a social program, it is politically sacrosanct.  When Nancy Wittenberg, director of Florida's refugee assistance program, issued a report accusing the Foundation of supplying illegal health insurance and "atrocious" services to the Cuban refugees it brings in, Jorge Mas and his associates reacted indignantly.  "It's a bunch of shit," said Foundation director Domingo Moreira.  They then traveled to Tallahassee to see Wittenberg's boss, Governor Lawton Chiles who, when he was a U.S. Senator, received major PAC support from Mas.  Two days later, Wittenberg issued a letter regretting her "error" and apologized to the Foundation for the "misunderstanding."


These days, Jorge Mas is feeling his garbanzos.  The young immigrant who once scraped leftovers from the dirty dishes at Miami Beach's Fontainebleau is romping around the world as international emissary for the Let's-Stick-It-To-Castro-Now crusade.  More importantly, his portfolio carries an Unofficially Approved U.S. Government sticker which opens doors.  At the first crack of the Soviet Union's perestroika, even before Gorbachev stepped aside, he hustled off to Moscow to advise the Soviet leader to cut off military aid to Cuba.  Mas was ready to deal.  Said one report:  "Mas Canosa has told Soviet officials that he can help them obtain U.S. aid, but only after they sever their alliance with Cuba."

El tiene chutzpah?  Mas had only begun:  In Czechoslovakia, he got Václav Havel to end Prague's diplomatic service for Cuba in exchange for promoting business deals with Mas' wealthy capitalist friends in Florida.   In Lisbon, he successfully urged Portugese chief of state Mario Soares to publicly call Fidel a "dinosaur."  In Budapest, he got the leader of Hungary's Parliament to sign a statement of solidarity with the Cuban American Foundation's efforts to overthrow Castro.  In Buenas Aires, he coaxed Argentine President Carlos Menem to record an anti-Castro message for broadcast over the Foundation's radio service to Cuba.

Although Mas comes off as an ambassador for his own government-in-exile, the substance of what he accomplishes on his foreign rounds is less important than the publicity gushers of anti-Castro sentiment generated.   Mas' primary goal is to constantly rile Fidel.

Among what Mas touts as his more significant accomplishments, for instance, is establishing a personal relationship with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin.  He did it in 1989 when Yeltsin took his first tour of the U.S.  Mas had the Russian political renegade invited to the University of Miami for a seminar and party.  He then buttered him well.  "Gorbachev is a man of the past," declared Mas.  "Boris Yeltsin is the man of the day, the man of the hour."

Mas' hospitality paid off.  Immediately after Yeltsin survived the coup attempt which enabled him to consolidate his power in Russia, Jorge Mas hustled off to Moscow.  Mas soon announced that the Cuban American National Foundation was authorized to open an office there.  The Foundation needed an office in Moscow as much as it needed one in Bora Bora, but for Mas it was a propaganda coup.  And, more important, it had to piss off Fidel.


Quién es este hombre magnífico and where the hell did he come from?   The story of Jorge Mas' climb to international diplomatic renown mixes facts with his self-polished myth:   After years of activity in the anti-Castro movement, including participation at the Bay of Pigs, Jorge Mas decided in the late '60s to take a respite from fighting Fidel, to settle down and make a better living for his wife and young sons.  With a loan from an exile banker buddie, he acquired a construction firm, got a major contract to lay cable for Southern Bell and, by the late '70s, was worth at least $9 million.  (His firm, Church & Tower, is now a $62 million business with about 400 employees.)  He bought a sprawling, Spanish-style mansion south of Miami with high walls, towering Royal palms, a tear-drop swimming pool.  He drove a Mercedes, had a box seat at the Dolphins games, took his family skiing at Vail.  He had become a very successful capitalist and began to itch with the power that came with that success.  In Miami, that power had its own special twist.

Writer Joan Dideon came to Miami early in the '80s to write her book about this "rich and wicked tropical boomtown,"  this new Casablanca, this cool city of hot drugs and pink neon and Miami Vice fantasies.  Instead she found a deeper, more submerged reality and saw as an outsider what those who had ruled Miami for so long couldn't see.  The Cubans had taken over.  By that time, Jorge Mas was establishing himself as a new Cuban American force in Washington -- even though he was still little known among Americans in his hometown of Miami.  Dideon  marveled at a description in a 1983 Herald Sunday magazine piece about ten prominent local Cubans, one of whom was Jorge Mas:  "He is an advisor to U.S. Senators, a confidant of federal bureaucrats, a lobbyist for anti-Castro U.S. policies, a near unknown in Miami.  When his political group sponsored a luncheon speech in Miami by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, almost none of the American business leaders attending had ever heard of their Cuban host."

That's what actually enabled Mas to quickly climb to the majors:   The Cubans had taken over the new Miami and the old Miami didn't know it.  The Herald was still attributing power to the "Non-Group," a tight clique of Old Money Anglo executives who headed the city's major financial, cultural and political establishments -- including The Miami Herald.  In reality, the power had slipped to a group of wealthy Cuban exiles who had risen to success not by assimilation and community contribution but by loyalty to one another.  It was that priority to personal loyalty that Americans found -- and still find -- so difficult to understand in the Latin culture.  Yet it was Latin loyalty that enabled Miami's Cubans to knock out some of the town's biggest corporate players.  Years later, in discussing the diminishing role of a large Anglo construction firm in Miami's development, Mas explained it:  "It has been very difficult for it to compete with the Cuban builder who has 10 acres and a network with other Cuban contractors.  The big companies couldn't compete with the network I developed with my fellow Cubans.  I was able to put together a team of my peers.  I had to.  Nobody gives power away."

It is part of the myth -- a valid if ironic part of it -- that Mas energized his Cuban network of wealthy peers, among whom the Latin trait of personal loyalty is far more important than political ideology, to build the Cuban American National Foundation into an organization that grabbed power in Washington with the most immoderate and uncompromising form of political ideology.


Jorge Mas is a master at creating images.  The image he created of himself early on was that of the little guy fighting the mighty bureaucracy on behalf of freedom and justice for Cuba.  Congressional staffers called him the "Lone Ranger," he once told a reporter, "because I was always walking all those halls by myself, trying to sneak into the office of some congressman or senator."

Mas pictured himself to the media then as a self-appointed, one-man, Cuban-liberation lobby.  "I'd write letters to 50 congressmen and senators, telling them when I was coming," he said, "and I'd always get six or seven answers telling me to come and see them at such-and- such a time."  This, Mas said, is how he developed his contacts.

Oddly enough, no one questioned how he so quickly parlayed his contacts to the highest levels of government.  By 1983, President Ronald Reagan himself responded to Mas' invitation to speak at a Cuban Independence Day rally in Miami.  Later, Vice President George Bush accepted a similar invitation.

Mas claimed his role as a lobbyist had been preceded by a change in his philosophy about the best way to fight Fidel Castro.  He had come to the realization that exile military action and guerilla warfare had not worked.  "We had to stop commando raids and concentrate on influencing public opinion and governments," he said.  La Causa was alive but now it was not going to be fought in the swamps of Cuba by exiles in fatigues, but in the corridors of the Capitol by wealthy Cubans in creased business suits.  "La batalla de Washington,"  Mas called it.  "We are playing by the American rules of the game."

And that, too, is a part of the myth that holds some reality.  The American rules of the game required political payoffs.  The Cuban American National Foundation, both through its members as private individuals and through its PAC, began seeding its financial support in exactly the right places, including at the top.  When the 1984 Reagan campaign was forced to reject a $5000 contribution from the new Cuban exile political group after critics charged that federal election rules had been violated, Mas and his wealthy friends then handed Reagan $200,000 as individuals.  "Some of us got together and at the level of simple citizens raised the money," explained Mas.

Money helped, but from the start the Foundation's success was imprinted with the steam rolling style of Jorge Mas himself.  Mas is a master of confrontation.  Every individual meeting, casual or formal, friendly or not, is a fully attentive challenge.  Speaking or listening, he fixes an individual with an unwavering gaze.  He is warm to those who support him, vindictive towards those who oppose him.  He calls it a Cuban trait. ("We are very loyal and grateful people.  We never forget our friends and always remember our enemies.")   He never disguises his ego, never reveals a crack in his self-confidence.  He's articulate,  has a sophisticated English vocabulary, but hangs on to an accent.  He's a diminutive man with pale, delicate hands (he fights a nail-biting habit), but on the rostrum he looms large.  Like his nemesis Castro, Mas is a tireless, extemporaneous speaker.  He jabs the air with his forefinger, thrusts out his chin on points of defiance.  The veins in his neck bulge with intensity, beads of sweat appear on his upper lip.  He swivels, bobs and moves like a stand-up puncher.  An occasional tick of his head and right shoulder betrays the edgy nerves of a fighter who has fought many a battle, but there's still a focused intensity that conveys his unremitting passion for the mission.


From the beginning, there was no mistaking where Jorge Mas and the Foundation stood on the Cuba issue:  Right side of the hard line.  Shortly after CANF opened its Washington office with five full-time staffers in a modern red-brick building overlooking the Potomac, it placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post with this big headline:  "SAY IT ISN'T SO, PRESIDENT REAGAN.  NO DEALS WITH CASTRO."

Say what?  Was Reagan even thinking of dealing with Castro?

Of course not.  But the tact revealed the strategy that Mas would use in every move to come, strategy that utilized his expertise in sophisticated propaganda ploys.  The ad fired the first shot in the new Foundation's war against Castro.  More, it was a reflection of Mas' aggressive, pugnacious approach.  And -- what only a few insiders knew at the time -- it was an indication of Mas' collusive links to the White House.

La battalia de Washington was underway.  It didn't take long for Washington to lose.  Mas and the Foundation pulled off an incredible series of legislative victories.  Almost all involved large amounts of tax-payer dollars poured into programs of dubious national interest and none dealing with the country's most pressing domestic priorities.  Since 1981, more than $160 million has been funneled into the Foundation's anti-Cuba projects by the U.S. Congress.  And it wasn't because the threat from Fidel was increasing.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis of December, 1962, when Soviet Premier Khruschev agreed to remove Cuba's nuclear threat and, in return, President Kennedy agreed to end the secret war being waged by the CIA and the Cuban exiles against Castro, the island faded as an American security concern.  But not as a political one.  It remained a symbol of rebellion against the American capitalistic system.  Like a feisty miniature chihuahua defiantly yipping at an enormous, haughty lion gorging himself on a fat carcass, it was occasionally annoying but hardly a threat to the big cat.  Yet for more than a score of years in Washington, Jorge Mas has devoted himself to carefully constructing awesome scenarios of the chihuahua's potential danger.  And he knows, even now, that damn dog don't hunt.


Although he himself was nurtured in Reagan's Republican nest, Mas has grown powerful enough on his own to declare that a politician's stand on Cuban issues, not political affiliation, determines Foundation support.  In a recent Free Cuba PAC report to the Federal Election Commission, those receiving contributions included many a politician with few Cuban exiles in their districts, but every one is on a Congressional committee considering legislation involving Cuban issues.

There is a unique dynamic involved in all this which Mas has been shrewd enough to exploit.  It's based on this:  Most members of the U.S. Congress don't give a damn about Cuban issues.  There are very few, if any, districts in this country where a congressman is going to lose votes because he took a stand against Castro.  So, as a lobbyist or PAC contributor, it's easy to persuade a congressman that it could be in his interest to vote against Castro.  No downside to it, and the upside could be green.

Mas has also played hard ball.  One of his regular opponents was Connecticut Republican Senator Lowell Weiker who, besides opening a personal dialogue with Castro, would invariably oppose legislation backed by the Cuban American National Foundation.  When Democrat Joe Lieberman ran against Weiker in 1988, he suddenly found himself the recipient of support from some wealthy Cuban Americans as well as Mas' PAC.  Weiker lost.

Despite a denial from Rhode Island's Democratic Senator Claiborne Pell that he got totally turned around by pressure from Mas, his case is cited in Washington's lobbying circles as classic.  Six-term Senator Pell had been consistently critical of the Cuban embargo, opposed to Radio Marti and repeatedly called for normalization of relations with Cuba.  Two years after Weiker went down to defeat with the help of the Cuban American National Foundation, Pell was facing the toughest re-election challenge he had ever had.  At the time, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he also happened to be opposing an amendment pushed by Florida's Connie Mack which would have tightened the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.  Then, according to a legislative insider, "It was made clear to Pell that if he continued his opposition he would be the next target of the Cuban American National Foundation's efforts."  Pell was invited to Miami to sit down with Jorge Mas.  Upon his return to Washington, Pell announced he was switching his stand on the amendment.  "It was a very ignoble surrender,"  recalls a former associate of Mas who remembers the tough times Pell used to give the Foundation on Cuban issues.  No more.  Pell had been told for whom the bells might toll.

"I now see Mas as a very unique character," says ex-diplomat Wayne Smith who, since his retirement, has followed the Cuban exile's actions closely.  "In a way he's a credit to the American way.  This guy has assimilated the American political system better than anyone else.  He really knows how to use it.  He knows who to intimidate, who to buy and how to make it work in the most underhanded ways possible.  He's head and shoulders above every other politician in terms of being effective.  I think he's also sinister.  I don't think he understands democracy any more than Castro does."


That's a rap Jorge Mas has heard before.  It is misinformation.   No one has ever blamed Jorge Mas for the score of bombs that have exploded over the years in Miami in or under or around the cars and businesses of individuals who have disagreed with the political philosophy of the Cuban American National Foundation.  Mas has been accused of promoting and arousing other hotheads to action, but he has never been accused of any violence himself.  (Except by his brother Ricardo, who once said that Mas beat the hell out of him and took his car.  Mas had to pay Ricardo $245,000 for that.  Mas was later ordered to pay Ricardo another $1.2 million for another action when he wrote libelous letters to Ricardo's potential business clients.  But Ricardo was never bombed.)

Mas is well aware, however, that a part of his power base in Washington rests on the illusion that he represents the intractable hard-line anti-Castro attitude of most Cuban exiles.  It also rests on the image that he is in control of the Cuban exile community, he is the strongman, the caudillo.  Mas snaps at every opportunity to reinforce both the illusion and the image.

The setting is usually Miami, but early this year Mas saw a chance to take his muscle show to the Big Apple.  It was un éxito grande!   He managed to rally some 15,000 anti- Castro demonstrators -- 4000 of whom had come up with Mas from Miami -- against a rally sponsored by a peace group calling for opening relations with Cuba.  He intimidated some big show biz types, including Harry Belafonte, Ed Asner and Martin Sheen, into not showing up to support the peace group.  New York City was forced to pay 700 police officers overtime to keep the peace and confrontations were minimal:  A few punches were thrown, one guy got clubbed in the head.  "We oppose violence," Mas shouted to a reporter as he led the mass of protesters along West 42nd Street. "But we also support any person's right to engage in any action he thinks necessary to get freedom."

Except, of course, if that person wants to deal with Castro.


Even on a clear day, you won't see New York from the top of Capitol Hill, but when Mas produces massive protest demonstrations like the one in Manhattan, the message is clear to many a politician:  Don't mess with Mas.

Says Jorge Mas:  "I laugh at the image of Jorge Mas who crushes every adversary."

It isn't the image of Jorge Mas that his critics fear, it's the reality of Mas' powerful political connections.  He's been quick to use those connections against those who are not faithful to his cause or appear a threat to his personal ambitions.

The case of Jerry Scott, a 51-year-old Foreign Service veteran and public affairs officer in the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, is a dramatic example of what happens to someone who gets on Mas' shit list.  As the point man for the State Department's human rights efforts in Cuba, Scott knew most of the human rights activists and dissidents on the island.  Mas was delighted with Scott when he helped Ricardo Bofill, a former professor of Marxism and a leading dissident, get to the United States.  Bofill was put on the Foundation's payroll.  Left behind as one of Cuba's most outspoken dissidents was Elizardo Sánchez, who runs the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.  He has spent more than eight years in a Castro prison, much of it in solitary confinement.  Yet Sánchez remains a socialist and wants to see Washington open a dialogue with Castro.  Jorge Mas despises him for that and, because Sánchez is one of the most prominent dissidents inside Cuba, Mas views him as a possible threat to future goals.  (Largely because of that, Radio Martí has virtually ignored Sánchez.)  When Jerry Scott befriended Sánchez, he earned Mas' animosity.
"....and...we always remember our enemies..."

On May 5th, 1989, a pack of well-armed U.S. Customs agents rammed through the door of Ramón Cernuda's luxury apartment overlooking Biscayne Bay.  No, it was not a drug bust.  It was an art bust.  The agents confiscated 40 paintings by Nicolas Guillén, a dissident Cuban artist.  Cernuda was charged under the 1963 Trading With the Enemy Act.  He could have been fined $250,000 and sent to prison for ten years.  Named as conspiring with Cernuda to smuggle in the illegal art was Foreign Service officer Jerry Scott.

Scott had bought the paintings largely as a humanitarian gesture from Guillén for about $300.  A talented documentary film artist, Guillén had spent more than six years in prison in Cuba. (Once, to footage of Castro climbing a mountain, Guillén had added a music track of the song "The Fool on the Hill.")  When Scott met him, Guillén was a broken man, selling the last of his furniture to support himself and his 81-year-old mother.  He couldn't afford canvas, he painted on poster paper with homemade pigments and tools.

If Scott was a smuggler, he was a reckless one.  He declared the paintings to Customs in Miami and informed both the State Department and his bosses at the U.S. Information Agency.  When Cernuda got them, he wrote the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department for authorization to exhibit them and enclosed Jerry Scott's card to confirm original acquisition.

What made the Federal art bust seemingly bizarre was that this was the first time since the trade embargo against Cuba 26 years prior that the U.S. government had seized any paintings as contraband, although such national auction houses as Sotheby's and Christie's had been selling post-embargo Cuban artwork for years.

Of course, to Miami's Cuban exiles, the bust wasn't at all bizarre.  It was business as usual.  Jorge Mas' business.  Jerry Scott had earned Mas' wrath, but Ramón Cernuda was considered an absolute enemy.  Not only was he the U.S. representative of Sánchez's human rights group, he was the leader of a group of young wealthy exiles who urged a softer line against Castro and were challenging the Foundation's claim to speak for the exile community.

The Cernuda raid had come shortly after President Bush had appointed Dexter Lehtinen as U.S. Attorney.  It was Lehtinen who ordered the art bust.  It was Lehtinen who held a press conference and heralded the seizure, as one reporter put it, "as if he had just apprehended the leader of the Medillín drug cartel."  Lehtinen played the role of Mr. Justice Department simply doing his job.

But the raid wasn't about justice, it was about politics and Jorge Mas.  Not only had Lehtinen been supported by Mas when he was a state senator, he was married to Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, a Mas political loyalist and old friend (their families were neighbors in Santiago de Cuba).  Ros-Lehtinen was depending on Mas for heavy support in her bid for the late Claude Pepper's congressional seat.  After her husband's art raid on Cernuda, she got it.
In the end, it was such a perverted use of power that even a Reagan-appointed Republican jurist, Judge Kenneth Ryscamp, threw the case out and called the government's actions "arbitrary and capricious."

It mattered little to Mas, he had made his point.  He went on a talk show on Radio Mambi, one of the strident anti-Castro stations, and admitted that he was indeed responsible for the action against Cernuda and Scott.  It was his way of telling the world that, win or lose, he is still El Numero Uno Hombre.

Occasionally, even Mas gets carried away with the role.  As when he challenged Miami City Commissioner Joe Corollo to a duel, preferably with guns.  Corollo had vetoed a $130 million real estate development deal in which Mas, former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and others were involved.  Corollo had suggested that one of the investors might have done some business with a communist country.  That was too much for Mas.  He immediately took to the Latin airwaves and made his challenge. "I am going to prove to the Cubans that you are a clown and a coward," said Mas.  "Your bullying in Miami has ended because you have encountered a man, with a capital M.  A very big M."

Corollo laughed off the challenge and suggested the duel be held with water pistols to cool off Mas.  He wasn't laughing when he lost his commission seat at the next election to a candidate Mas backed with a large sum of money.


There is a seeming arrogance that pervades Jorge Mas' displays of power.  To a degree, that is part of the facade, the cultivated myth.  Arrogance is an exposed trait, an obvious characteristic.  With Mas it disguises more complex motivations. Little of what Mas does stands as an isolated scheme.  He works from a master plan driven by personal passions and honed by his training.  Designed to succeed or to fail, every action must ultimately contribute to the goals of the larger mission.

His battle with The Miami Herald was so designed.  When Mas fired the opening shot against the media flagship of the powerful Knight-Ridder corporate giant, it didn't come, as it appeared, from a fit of pique or spontaneous outrage.  The outcome proved that.

Some Miamians – not all of them Mas supporters -- think the Herald got what it deserved.  In the past, it has gotten obsequious in catering to its Cuban exile readers, a posture pressured by its declining readership.  In fact, it's ironic that when publisher David Lawrence Jr. first arrived on the job, he early devoted an entire Sunday op-ed column to Jorge Mas.  In handling the piece, Lawrence was so deferential to Mas the New Times weekly dubbed him "Doormat Dave." (Lawrence quoted Mas:  "I am a man who easily falls in love with an ideal.  I am an idealist.  When I see an injustice being done, I am the first volunteer to step forward."  Added Lawrence: "This is the Jorge Mas Canosa he believes too few of us know.")

What ostensibly led Mas to begin la battala de Herald was the newspaper's editorial opposing a congressional bill tightening the embargo on Cuba.  That bill was floated by Mas himself and now, outrageously enough, here was Mas' hometown newspaper trying to sink it.  It was a direct challenge to Mas' reputation in Washington.

Mas' initial barrage came over the Spanish-language radio stations which have long been his soapboxes.  He denounced both The Miami Herald and its Spanish-language edition, El Nuevo Herald, as "tools of the Fidel Castro regime" and urged its two senior Cuban American executives to resign.  "El Nuevo Herald manipulates information just like Granma [the official state newspaper of Cuba]," he fumed.  The Herald, he said, conducted a "continuous and systematic campaign against Cuban Americans, their institutions, values, ethics and ideals."

Publisher David Lawrence and Herald President Roberto Suarez (one of the executives Mas had asked to resign) issued a measured joint statement in reply calling the allegations "sad and painful and unfair."

From there, the firing and counter-firing escalated.  Lawrence, congenitally the Mr. Rogers of newspaper publishers, kept toughening up, but he was no match for Mas.  The Herald devoted a huge number of type inches to the battle, many of them to attacks on the newspaper written by Mas himself.  The Herald was desperately trying to establish a civil "dialogue."  It was a very gentlemanly way to fight and Mas took advantage of it.  He wrote cool, biting but diplomatic essays detailing his viewpoint, then headed for the Cuban exile radio stations to shove it hot and heavy up Lawrence's rear end.  The clearest indication of who was winning the battle came when Lawrence, after filling a half-page column with what he thought was a tough, firm stance, topped it with a banner headline:  'PLEASE MR. MAS, BE FAIR.'  It had the sad sound of a big newspaper whining.

It got ugly from there.  The Cuban American National Foundation sent letters to Herald advertisers to "raise awareness" of the "bias and half-truths that have appeared" in the newspaper.  The Herald's sidewalk vending boxes were defaced and smeared with excrement.  Lawrence received bomb and death threats.  Mas publicly deplored such threats and said they had probably been made by Castro's agents seeking to discredit Cuban exiles.  The backs of city buses bloomed with large display ads reading, on the routes through Latin neighborhoods, "YO NO CREO EN EL HERALD," and on other routes, "I DON'T BELIEVE THE MIAMI HERALD."  For the first time in its 50-year history, the Inter American Press Association sent a team, at the Herald's urging, to investigate a press problem in the United States.  (It found Mas' pro-Castro charges against the Herald "ludicrous.")

The battle went on for months until Mas decided he had made his point and it was no longer in his benefit to continue.  At a "Community Unity" luncheon sponsored by the Easter Seal Society, he announced that the Herald had become "more objective" in the past weeks and declared the Cuban American community's campaign against the Herald  was over.


David Lawrence and The Miami Herald might take pride in not knuckling under to the pressure that Mas and his cohorts piled on, but they took a hell of an image pounding.  One of the most revealing aspects of the affair, however, was the criticism and reaction Mas himself received from those who had usually found in his corner -- including the Bush administration.  Jeb Bush is still trying to distance himself from Mas, at least publicly. His principal business partner, Armando Codina, gave up his Foundation directorship.  Even Elliott Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State and tough anti-Castro cohort of Mas, publicly chastised his old pal in a speech, saying Mas' battle against the Herald was wrong and created doubts about Mas' "understanding of the role of a free press in America today, and in Cuba tomorrow."

Tough talk, but Mas had to know it would coming.   He didn't give a damn because he knows he now has the Bush administration by the huevos.   Both Mas' push for tightening the embargo against Cuba and his battle with the Herald fit into a larger picture.  That picture comes in black and white and features only two figures:  Jorge Mas Canosa and Fidel Castro.   When Mas saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union coming, he knew that Castro's regime would be badly, if not fatally shaken.  Mas decided to intensify his harassment of Castro in order to provoke a reaction that might involve the United States.  At the same time, he moved to enlarge and fortify his image in case -- just in case -- a vacuum for it might develop in some island somewhere.  Part of the motivation in picking a fight with the Herald was to test the strength of the power he had long been methodically accumulating.

Few of Mas' moves to consolidate his power have been subtle.  He has taken an incredible amount of flak for some of them, shots that would have knocked down any other public figure.  Yet he seems to hold a mysterious force that enables him to endure.  His successful effort to push Radio Martí's Ernesto Betancourt out of his way is an example.

Considering the controversy of its birth, Radio Martí received relatively little criticism after it began operating.  That was because of Betancourt.  In order to get the station, Mas had been forced to promise a few congressional committees that he wouldn't turn it into a rabble- rousing voice of Miami's Cuban exiles.  As Radio Martí's director, Betancourt became his front man to that promise.  But, as it turned out, Betancourt was serious about running Martí as an objective, non-confrontational news operation.  Unlike the Miami exile stations, Martí did not call Castro the "bloody satrap" or refer to him as "the hyena of the Caribbean."  Betancourt, now 65, is a veteran Washingtonian who helped set up President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress.  A classy guy, he has always been fiercely independent.  He was one of the few anti-Castro Cuban exiles who opposed the Bay of Pigs because he thought its inevitable failure would help consolidate Castro's power.  It did.

Mas used Betancourt to give Radio Martí its initial legitimacy, but the director got in the way of the station chairman's evolving master plan.  Mas' insistence on starting TV Martí led to Betancourt's departure.  Betancourt argued that the effort itself would undermine Radio Martí's credibility.  Intruding on Cuba's television airwaves would be both illegal and ineffective and worse, he argued, it could provoke a reaction by Castro against Radio Martí which, until then, was reaching Cuba without being jammed.  Betancourt argued himself out of a job.

He did not go quietly, and Mas had to have known that he wouldn't.  One of Betancourt's friends and supporters is Georgie Anne Geyer, a nationally syndicated columnist.  Mas could not accuse Geyer, always supportive of his anti-Castro stance, of being among his liberal enemies.  Now, however, Geyer saw Mas' ploy as "a raw battle for power," his push for TV Martí a move "to advance Mas' ambitions to be president of a post-Castro Cuba."  More sinister, she said, was Mas' "final use both Radio and TV Martí as a means of invoking a 'confrontation' between the United States and Cuba."  She said Mas hoped to provoke Castro into more and more jamming so that, eventually, "President Bush would have to retaliate."

Geyer thought the matter serious enough to appeal directly to the top:  "Someone in the White House has got to straighten this out," she wrote.  "For we taxpayers are living with -- and grandly paying for -- the illusions of glory of deluded men.  We also may be paying for far-more-dangerous things, such as an all-out confrontation with Fidel Castro."

Geyer's column is home based in the conservative Washington Times and she is known to have the White House's ear.  Yet despite such vehement opposition from Geyer and other opponents of the project, including his own State Department, President Bush authorized $7.5 million to "test" TV Martí and then, once it was established hardly anyone in Cuba was receiving it, another $16 million a year to keep it going.  Geyer may have had President Bush's ear, but Mas had him by another part of his anatomy.


Miami is a universe of mirrors.  Nothing appears in context, yet nothing that happens is without context.  It is a universe manacled to its history, shaped and driven by the men whose idealistic passions and sinister intrigues were enmeshed in that history.  It is a universe where the myth configured by Jorge Mas Canosa meets reality.

One evening not that long ago, a select group of members of the Cuban American National Foundation gathered in a private room above the Mirabella restaurant on Calle Ocho.  They had been invited to hear a special guest, a retired official of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, now a "business consultant."  The meeting wasn't publicized, the media wasn't informed of it.  The retired official appears in public rarely and reluctantly.  His entire career has been shrouded in the utmost secrecy, few Americans even know of his existence.  Yet he has played a key role in pivotal events in American history.  That he should emerge from the seclusion of his estate in Virginia to speak to a small group from the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami reveals a bit about the status of the organization in certain circles and a lot about Jorge Mas Canosa's connections.

Theodore G. Shackley had risen to Deputy Director of Operations at the CIA.  That is the Agency's clandestine services division, its "dirty tricks" department.  At strategic posts from Berlin to Laos to Vietnam, Shackley has been the point man in the Agency's secret wars.  Of the select inside players in the CIA's Old Boy network, he is among those deepest inside.

What made Shackley's appearance that night in Miami so significant to many members of the Foundation was that, although they had not known him then, nor even his name, at one time they worked for him.  Shackley headed the CIA station in Miami known as JM/WAVE.  The years of the station's operations defined the future of Miami, the character of the Cuban exile movement and the track of Jorge Mas' life.

Following the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy was equally furious at both Fidel Castro, for repeatedly rubbing his nose in the debacle, and at the CIA, for botching it.  Kennedy was determined to get even.  He sent his brother Robert to take direct charge of the Agency and organize a prolonged clandestine guerilla war against Castro.  Insiders called it "the Kennedy vendetta."  Miami's JM/WAVE station became the largest CIA operation outside of Langley.   Thousands of Cuban exiles were put on the Agency's payroll.  Each of the 400 American case officer employed as many as ten Cuban "principal agents" who, in turn, controlled as many as 30 regular agents.  Dozens of Cuban exile groups, most of whose members thought they were renegade operations regularly violating the Neutrality Act, were actually controlled by the CIA.  More than $100 million a year went into logistics, weapons, boats, planes, and secret training camps in the Florida Keys and the Everglades.  Nightly raids were made into Cuba, destroying or disrupting railroads, oil refineries, sugar mills and other facilities.  JM/WAVE's secret war was so successful it eventually produced the Cuban Missile Crisis.  That led Kennedy to a personal awakening, a sudden realization that he had brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust.  He made a deal with Khruschev that included ending the secret war and closing down the CIA's exile operations.

Kennedy discovered that wars, even secret ones, are easier to start than to turn off.  The Cuban exiles thought Kennedy was a traitor.  So did many of their CIA supervisors.  When the guerilla raids didn't stop on his command, Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard to raid and shut the secret training camps.  That was evidence that Kennedy was a traitor.  Jorge Mas still says that the man he hates most after Fidel Castro is President Kennedy.

After Kennedy's assassination, the Agency and the Cuban exiles renewed their military operations against Castro.  They weren't on as large a scale but they continued until the late Sixties, when attention turned to Vietnam.  The JM/WAVE station, however, left a legacy of alliances between the Cuban exiles and the CIA that would endure.  These men, after all, had been trained to be sophisticated warriors, schooled in weaponry, sabotage, explosives and terrorist tactics.  Their loyalties and special talents would emerge down through the years in other areas of Agency activities, from Vietnam to Chile, Angola, El Salvador and Nicaragua.  Some became involved in terrorist blackmailing, political bombings and narcotics trafficking.  Others popped up in Watergate and in other congressional investigations.  The alliances also emerged in business networking, deals between men who had mutual interests and fidelities.  Many became very rich.


Sometime in 1981, in Miami, a very good friend of Jorge Mas got married.  More than 300 of the most wealthy and prominent Cuban exiles in America were invited.  They came from all over the country.  Every one of them, when they signed the guest register, listed their current address.  Except Jorge Mas Canosa.  He listed his address as "Santiago de Cuba."
It was another puff for the myth that Mas has been keeping afloat for so long.  Mas may have been born in Cuba and spent his formative years there, but he is less a product of the island than he is of the American intelligence community.

When Mas was a teenager in Santiago de Cuba, a port city on the island's eastern coast, Castro's 26th of July Movement was operating in the surrounding Sierra Maestra Mountains.  Mas' father, a veterinarian, was a major in Fulgencio Batista's army.  Young Mas, the third of five brothers and one sister, seemed both a natural leader and a natural rabble-rouser.  Despite being a Roman Catholic, Mas had joined the local Masonic Lodge and teamed up with another young Mason to broadcast a weekend program on Radio Santiago.  They kept taking shots at Batista's local chief of police and were once brought in for questioning.  That's when Papa Mas packed Jorge off to the Presbyterian Junior College in Maxton, North Carolina.

A week after Castro's revolution, Mas returned to Cuba and enrolled in law school at Oriente University.  He was 19.  He plunged into student politics and, when Castro began prosecuting his former 26th of July associates, Mas turned to anti-Castro activism.  One morning, after he had spent the night plastering the town with posters, the police came to arrest him.  "God came to my rescue," Mas would later recall. "I delivered a beautiful piece of oratory.  The guys around were so impressed they told the captain, 'He is innocent, let him go.'"  Two weeks later, he fled to Miami.

Mas never returned to school.  He immediately got involved with the CIA and its plans for a secret invasion.  On the records of the 2506 Brigade invasion force, he is listed as the squad leader of the 1st Rifle Company, 3rd Squad, El Grupo Niño Diaz.  That group was aboard a ship which was going to land in Mas' native Oriente province.  The attack was meant to divert Castro's attention from the main force at Bahia de Cochina.  Commander Niño Diaz and his troops circled around off shore a while and quickly departed when it was learned that the main landing had failed.  In the main force, 114 died and 1,180 were taken prisoner.  Mas never got his feet wet.

In his interviews with reporters over the years, Mas usually wheels quickly through those years between the Bay of Pigs and the formation of the Cuban American National Foundation in 1981.  Like all 2506 Brigade veterans, he was offered the chance to receive an officer's commission in the U.S. Army with promises, he claims, that there would be another invasion attempt.   Mas portrays his Army experience as inconsequential, says he took the offer but resigned when he realized the government was deceiving the exiles.  Married with a couple of kids, he says he returned to Miami to take a series of menial jobs -- dishwasher, shoe salesman, milkman -- to survive.

Actually, Mas' Army training is relevant.  The majority of the Cuban exiles were sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, or Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  Mas was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the Infantry School, but also a base where men in civilian suits came and gave special courses in such specialties as clandestine communications, intelligence and propaganda.  No invasion was planned, but, after Kennedy's assassination, the government resumed its secret war on a smaller scale and more secret level.  Some of the exiles trained at Benning joined a CIA-financed operation led by Manuel Artime, the former Agency-picked political officer of 2506 Brigade.  For two years they launched successful raids against Cuba out of Nicaragua, where strongman Anastasio Somoza was in business with the Agency.  Among the exiles trained at Fort Benning were two who would become Mas' closest links to the American intelligence community:  Felix Rodriquez and Luis Posada.  They would also become two of the CIA's most effective and lethal agents.

Back in Miami after Benning, Mas was selected for a newly-formed anti-Castro organization called Representatión Cubana en El Exilio, known by its acronym, RECE [ray- say].  Ostensibly, RECE was backed by Bacardi Rum magnate Jose M. Bosch, but files later reviewed by congressional investigators reveal it was CIA supported.  An early FBI report lists its leaders as Jorge Mas and Ernesto Freyre.  Freyre had worked with the intelligence community's top legend, William ("Wild Bill") Donovan, in ransoming the Bay of Pigs prisoners from Castro. Also working  for RECE was Erneido Oliva, the Agency-picked second in command at the Bay of Pigs and one of its heroes.  Oliva would later remember Mas as "our propaganda guy."  Mas never manned the boats that attacked Cuba's coastline or infiltrated the island, but he did more than handle propaganda.  An FBI memo reveals how he once delivered $5000 to Luis Posada, another El Grupo Niño Diaz survivor and, even then, on the CIA payroll.  The money was to cover expenses in blowing up a Cuban ship in Mexico's Vera Cruz harbor.

Jorge Mas might not have reached his current status as globe-hopping international diplomat, back-slapping buddy to prominent politicians and influential advisor to the President if he had carried with him a reputation as an active associate of the most violent of anti-Castro terrorists.  Now he keeps the myth inflated by condemning violence, except if by insurrectionists inside Cuba.  Now he publicly distances himself from those to whom he has provided major support for the most violent of actions.  He was, for instance, very close to Tony Cuesta, commander of the group called Commandos L.  Cuesta describes himself as "some kind of cool fanatic."  He has organized 33 raids against Cuba.  Mas helped plan many of them, helped raise money, get boats and guns.  On one raid, rather than surrender, Cuesta attempted to blow up his boat with a crude hand grenade.  The blast ripped off his left arm and left him blind but alive.  He spent 12 years in a Castro prison.  Castro released him as part his detente with President Carter.  When Cuesta returned to Miami, he immediately began planning more attacks.  In fact, he designed a special craft from which island infiltrators could silently depart through a special compartment built into the hull.  Mas remained one of Cuesta's quiet backers.  It was Mas' old network of connections which helped him become a multimillionaire business success.  His anti-Castro organization, RECE, was closely linked to the local Miami unit of the Communication Workers of America, a telephone employees' union heavy with Cuban exiles.  Their offices were both in the Bell Arcade in Little Havana, conveniently next to the Army-Navy Surplus outlet.  A RECE director who had headed the union in Cuba knew two Cubans named Iglesias and Torres who had set up a company in Puerto Rico to do contract work for the telephone company.  In 1968, Mas opened their Miami office.  Business poured in but the cash flow was slow.  The firm started to sink.  Mas offered to buy out Iglesias and Torres for $50,000.  Mas changed the name of the firm to its English equivalent, Church & Tower, and within a year after he acquired it, the cash flow suddenly turned around and Mas, through the RECE director's contacts, had a million-dollar contract with Southern Bell.


The priority of Jorge Mas' primary loyalties rarely surfaces publicly, but even when it does and he is forced to protect them, he does not hesitate to push every power button at his command -- including the one that rings at the top.  That was illustrated when he was forced to reveal his connection to Dr. Orlando Bosch.  The former baby doctor may be the world's best known anti-Castro militant, which is the softest way to characterize him.  "Bosch," the Boston Globe once editorialized, "is in a class with terrorists such as Abu Nidal."

Orlando Bosch's career is a prime example of how the apparatus the U.S. government created to wage its secret war against Castro produced odd permutations.  A CIA report ties Bosch to more than 90 terrorist acts -- bombings, kidnapings, assassinations -- both in the U.S. and abroad from 1968 to 1980.  In the process, many innocent people were killed. ("It is part of the hard reality of war," Bosch admits.)

Two momentous events in Bosch's career provide an uncommon glimpse into a covert brotherhood of intelligence-trained exiles who, despite being involved in terrorist activities, have been major players in the U.S. Government's Latin American policy.  Jorge Mas is a link connecting important members of that brotherhood.

In the summer of 1976, at a resort in the mountains near Bonao, Dominican Republic, 20 men representing the most militant Cuban exile groups held a secret meeting.  Bosch considered it a personal triumph to bring together the fractious exile organizations into a coalition called Commando of United Revolutionary Organizations, or CORU.  Among those attending that first CORU summit were several close associates of Jorge Mas, including the brothers Ignacio and Guillermo Novo, José Dionisio Suárez and RECE comrade, Luis Posada, his old friend from his Bay of Pigs aborted invasion ship.  After his training at Fort Benning, Posada had gone directly on the payroll of the CIA.

At the time of the Bonao meeting, Bosch was a Federal fugitive.  He had been arrested for firing a bazooka at a Polish ship in Miami harbor.  Paroled in 1972, he skipped the country when a grand jury wanted to question him about the assassination of a rival Cuban exile leader.  By 1976, he was living in Caracas, where another Cuban exile, Orlando Garcia, was chief of the secret police, DSIP, and Luis Posada had started his own private security agency.  Of the Bonao meeting, Bosch would later explain:  "Everything was planned there.  I told them that we couldn't just keep bombing an embassy here and a police station there.  We had to start taking more serious actions."  In the 10 months after its first summit, CORU took credit for more than 50 bombings in Miami, New York, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Argentina.

CORU was also responsible for two of the decade's most brazen acts of violence.  One was the September 1976 car bombing of former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier on Embassy Row in Washington D.C.  The other was the October 1976 mid-air explosion of a Cubana Airlines plane out of Barbados that killed all 73 aboard, including a score of South Americans and all 24 of the young athletes on Cuba's gold-medal fencing team.

Trindad police arrested two Venezuelans, Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo, who had flown the Cubana plane on the first leg of its trip from Trinidad to Barbados under assumed names.  Ricardo, who worked for Luis Posada's security agency, admitted that he and Lugo had planted two bombs on the plane.  He said that Posada and Bosch were the masterminds.  Ricardo and Lugo were turned over to the Venezuelan police and Posada and Bosch were arrested.  When police raided Posada's office, they discovered a map of Washington showing Letelier's daily work route.

Michael Townley, an American who worked for Chile's intelligence service, DINA, later confessed to murdering Letelier and Ronnie Moffitt, an Institute for Policy Studies associate who was riding with him.  DINA had systematically been eliminating opposition to the government of General Augusto Pinochet.  Townley said he had used a team of Cuban exiles, to whom Pinochet was a hero, to help him.  Among those who worked with him, Townley said, were the Novo brothers, both CORU members.  He said the radio-controlled bomb was triggered by José Dionisio Suárez, another CORU member.

The years went by.  Townley plea-bargained himself to a ten-year sentence and served five.  Guillermo Novo was found guilty of murder, but his conviction was overturned because the government had obtained his confession from a convict it had planted in his cell.  Ignacio Novo's conviction of perjury was also overturned.  José Dionisio Suárez was a fugitive until two years ago.  After his arrest, the Cuban American National Foundation helped raise money for his defense, but he later pleaded guilty.  Just how tight Jorge Mas is to the CORU terrorists was indicated recently when, in a move that any public relations expert might call indiscreet, he appointed the Novo brothers on the Foundation's "Information Commission."  The commission's job is to generate better public relations.

Posada and Bosch remained in a Venezuelan prison.  There had been world-wide reaction to the plane bombing but the Venezuelan government was in a bind.  Posada had been on DSIP's payroll and DSIP had provided Bosch safehaven as a U.S. fugitive.  Their trials kept getting postponed, but both lived well in comfortably-furnished cells, with Sony televisions and designer sheets on their beds.  Bosch never confessed to the airline bombing, but he did a frequent jail visitor, Alicia Herrera, a Venezuelan journalist and good friend of Freddy Lugo, details of the plot, including  documents.  But having Bosch in jail was considered a political hot potato and, besides, Venezuelan president, Carlos Andres Perez, thought Posada was the prime instigator of the crime.  DSIP chief Orlando Garcia, who himself was on the CIA payroll at the time, offered Bosch $5000 to escape.  Bosch wouldn't go without Posada.  Finally, in August, 1985, Posada bribed his way out of jail and, with a twin-engine Cessna provided by Cuban exile friends from Miami, flew to El Salvador.  There he got back on the CIA payroll working with an old friend, the CIA's Felix Rodriquez, supplying arms to the Nicaraguan Contras.

In 1987, after Bosch was in prison for more than 11 years, a Venezuelan judge decided there wasn't enough evidence to hold him any longer. (Lugo and Ricardo had both been convicted and sentenced to 20 years.)  Bosch was returned to the United States and jailed in the Federal correctional center in Miami for 14 months for his parole violation.  Then the Immigration & Naturalization Service legally declared him an "undesirable alien" and moved to deport him.  Only Cuba wanted him, 31 other countries refused to accept him.  With his record as a confessed terrorist, Bosch had to remain in prison.

But in July, 1990, Orlando Bosch drove away from Federal prison in a Mercedes Benz.  President Bush had ordered the Immigration Service to release him and put him under "electronic monitoring" in his home.  He had done so against the advice of Justice Department officials and the FBI.  One retired FBI agent was so incensed he wrote a letter to Secretary of State George Schultz describing Bosch as "Miami's number one terrorist."  When Bosch was released, The New York Times wrote a scathing editorial concluding:  "In the name of fighting terrorism, the United States sent the Air Force to bomb Libya and the Army to invade Panama.  Yet now the Bush Administration coddles one of the hemisphere's most notorious terrorists.  And for what reason?  The only one evident is currying favor in South Florida."

There was another not so evident reason:  Jorge Mas Canosa.  Mas had pulled out all stops for Bosch.  He not only had his favorite Florida congressional hacks, Senator Connie Mack and House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as well as Jeb Bush apply political pressure, Mas wielded his own special relationship with the President.  That core of that relationship was obviously compelling enough for the President to squander the nation's international prestige for the sake of a single exile terrorist.


The core grew from the seed:  The Cuban American National Foundation wasn't planted by the Cuban exiles but by Americans connected with the U.S. intelligence establishment.

Soon after Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, he and his clique of rock-hard cold warriors decided on a grand strategy of taking the war to the enemy -- the spreading Evil Empire of Godless Communism.  Chief architect of the strategy was CIA director William Casey, a veteran of the Agency's clandestine operations.  Casey declared the Administration's first mission was to stomp out the sparks of Leftist revolutions in Central America, but, in order to do so, the crusade had to incorporate a two-front war.  Casey detailed the President's National Security Council to set up a "public diplomacy" program.  This was the cover for a covert domestic propaganda effort to neutralize the post-Vietnam public opposition to foreign U.S. military intervention.

It was Richard V. Allen, the President's national security consultant (and the same guy who later added to Reagan's "sleeze factor" by taking cash and watches from a Japanese journalist), who came up with the idea that the Cuban exiles, if they were led to believe that toppling Castro was Reagan's top goal, could be organized into an effective tool to promote the President's pro-active foreign policy.  As his conduit to the exiles, Allen used Mario Elgarresta, a security council aide who had once been a political consultant in Miami as well as an executive with Southern Bell, for which Mas was prime contractor.  It's obvious now that Jorge Mas Canosa was the pre-ordained action connection, but he was little known in the exile community and, among those who did know him, he was considered just another diehard anti-Castro zealot.  He was a little too obvious.  Washington needed front men of more stature and respectability to give the organization immediate status.  Allen and Elgarresta chose Raul Masvidal and Carlos Salmon.  Elgarresta and Masvidal had gone to the same Jesuit school in Cuba.  Masvidal was a class act, president of a bank and one of the most respected men not only in Little Havana but, equally, in the community as a whole.  No one doubted his anti- Castroism, but he was moderate enough to be accepted in Miami's Non-Group of community civic leaders and, although a Republican, he was a friend of the Kennedy family.  Carlos Salman was similarly respected, a wealthy realtor who had long been in mainstream American politics as a Republican fundraiser.
Masvidal remembers he and Salman going to Washington to meet Richard Allen and Mario Elgarresta.  "We were told that there was a chance of doing something during the Reagan administration for Cuba if we could organize to improve our image," he recalls.  "That was the hype."

It was at that meeting that Elgarresta suggested adding Jorge Mas Canosa as a founding organizer.  "It made sense at the time," says Masvidal.  "Carlos was largely involved in political affairs, I was largely involved in civic affairs and Jorge had always been involved in the Cuba cause.  So that's how we got together."

Mas wasn't hesitant about taking the reins.  "Originally," says Masvidal, "Salman and I had a lot more connections than Jorge to the Reagan Administration.  Jorge was a nobody.  But he has a single-purpose mind and somehow he grabbed the leadership and eventually he pushed Salman out and eventually eased me out, too."

In retrospect, Masvidal says, he didn't realize the Reagan Administration set up the Foundation not to specifically advance the Cuban cause but as part of its larger scheme.  "Not initially," he says, "but after you've been burned two or three times by the machinations of the CIA and the U.S. Government, you get skeptical."  Jorge Mas was the manipulator.  "It's such a dishonest effort," Masvidal says, "that I feel bad now that I was used by Jorge, that I was so dumb that I allowed myself to be utilized.  He's a hell of a natural leader and he fooled me. The same way that 10 million people will tell you that Castro fooled them when he said he wasn't a Communist."

Neither was the special structure of the new organization Mas' idea.  He was steered to a Washington attorney who was close to the Administration.  The late Barney Barnett had set up the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the highly effective pro-Israel lobby.  Barnett advised setting up the Foundation's PAC and its lobbying arm as separate entities.   "The lobby arm was originally called the Cuban American Public Affairs Council," notes a former Foundation member. "They changed the name to the Cuban American Foundation to deceive the contributors.  Donations to the Cuban American National Foundation are tax-deductible, but not those to its lobby, the Cuban American Foundation.  A lot of money floats around."

When the Foundation was organized, Jorge Mas relied on its first executive director, Frank Calzon, to make political contacts and show him around Washington.  Long active in the human rights movement and highly respected on the Hill, Calzon built the Foundation's initial reputation as a legitimate base for source material on the Cuban issue.  But as Mas began to steer the organization closer to the Administration, Calzon didn't like what he saw coming.  Calzon soon found himself participating in weekly intelligence briefings that were held in the White House complex, where intelligence agents from a number of services would report the latest developments in Latin American hot spots.  When Calzon resigned, Mas started a vicious whispering campaign about his personal life.  Calzon wrote a column for The Miami Herald warning the Cuban community to beware the "new caudillos" who would lead them to harm's way.

There were also a series of personnel movements between the Foundation and the intelligence community, the most notable being the appointment of José Sorzano, president of the Foundation, to the National Security Council.  On his departure, Mas gave him a $10,000 bonus.

"Between 1981 and 1985," recalls Raul Masvidal, "I was very involved in the Foundation while Jorge started getting closer and closer to the White House and the Washington intelligence community.  There is no question that he built some kind of personal trail where all kinds of orders were brought down from Washington.  Jorge didn't trust me enough to involve me, he was a good operator, but he was obviously getting marching orders from the White House or the CIA or somewhere."


That "somewhere" is the key to Jorge Mas' connections.  In January 1983, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive No. 77, a secret executive order that permitted the National Security Council to coordinate inter-agency efforts for something called "Project Democracy."  In February 1987, Joel Brinkley, a reporter for The New York Times, uncovered the significance of that order:  "The Reagan Administration's clandestine dealings with Iran and the Nicaraguan rebels grew out of a well-concealed program established in the White House at least four years ago to conduct covert foreign policy initiatives....  The program, Project Democracy, began as the secret side of an otherwise open, well-publicized initiative that started life under the same name.  Project Democracy's covert side was intended to carry out foreign policy tasks that other Government agencies were unable or unwilling to pursue...."

The public arm of Project Democracy evolved into the National Endowment for Democracy, a conduit of funds to the Cuban American National Foundation and other groups supportive of Administration policy.  The N.E.D. was supervised by the NSC's Walter Raymond Jr., a propaganda expert and senior officer detailed from the CIA's Directorate of Operations.   Lt. Col. Oliver North was an obscure National Security Council aide when he was appointed to head the secret arm of Project Democracy.  Under him, it grew into a parallel foreign policy apparatus and pulled the NSC into the business of running secret operations out of the White House, culminating in the sale of arms to Iran, the diversion of profits and the illegal supply of arms to the Nicaraguan rebels.

Jorge Mas was up to his bushy eyebrows in both aspects of Project Democracy.  Aside from his involvement with N.E.D. funding, Mas joined the national board of an offspring of Project Democracy called PRODEMCA, which backed U.S. military assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras.  It worked in conjunction with a secret fund-raising program pulled together by one of Reagan's bosom buddies, U.S. Information Agency director Charles Wick.  (The Wicks were old California friends, one of the few couples who regularly dined privately with Nancy and Ron.)  In a statement issued to The New York Times in 1987, Wick denied any connection to Project Democracy:  "I did not, and I was never asked to raise money for Project Democracy."

He was kidding.  In 1983, in a confidential "talking points" memo for a meeting of wealthy businessmen, President Reagan noted:  "Charlie Wick has taken the lead in Project Democracy....  I asked Charlie to pull this group together -- to form a nucleus of support in the private sector for programs critical to our efforts overseas.  I know Charlie can do this."

Charlie did it.  He got $400,000 out of the group.  Working with Wick, Jorge Mas became one of his closest friends and supporters.  And -- what are friends for? -- he even did Wick a few favors.  In 1983, Wick was invited as a guest to the board meeting of the Cuban American National Foundation and spend a few days at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.  Shortly afterwards, it was revealed that Wick had been regularly and secretly taping his telephone conversations, including those with top members of the Administration.  It was stupid and indiscreet but not against Federal law to do so in Washington, but it became known that Wick had also taped conversations while he was at the Breakers.  (In fact, he recorded a conversation with Reagan's then-chief of staff, James Baker, about Project Democracy.)  In Florida, it is a felony crime to tape telephone conversations without two-party consent or a court order.  That put Republican Palm Beach State Attorney David Bludworth in a bind.  Wick had obviously committed a felony, but Bludworth said he would have to research the law before he made a decision about indicting Wick.  The problem for Bludworth was that the law was so damn clear and, worse, Wick had confessed he did it and turned the tapes over to a Senate committee.

It was obviously time for Jorge Mas and his wealthy friends of the Cuban American National Foundation to assess the situation.  It so happened that Bludworth was running for re- election in 1984 and was falling behind in his fund raising.   Weeks went by while Bludworth pondered his decision.  After the heat of the incident subsided, Bludworth announced he decided not to indict Wick.  Taking it upon himself to judicially dynamite the ignorance-of- the-law concept, Palm Beach's chief criminal prosecutor explained:  "Wick was not aware of our statutes."

That fall, Bludworth's campaign contribution reports listed a number of hefty donations from Cuban Americans, as well as contributions from lawyers Charles Barnett and his father, Barney.  Sure, the same Barney Barnett who had helped legally structure the Cuban American National Foundation.


Doing favors for friends of men at the top often produces reciprocation.  But to be guaranteed clout at the top when you need it, you have to be owed more than a few favors.  Ron Reagan and George Bush owe Jorge Mas a lot.

Early this summer, Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh obtained a criminal indictment against former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.  The indictment charges Weinberger with being involved in and then covering up the illegal trade of arms for hostages with Iran and shipments of arms to the Contras.  Woven throughout the 30-page indictment is the name of President George Bush.  At the time, Bush was Vice President and a chief of the Crisis Management Team of the National Security Council.  Although he has never been called to testify under oath, Bush has repeatedly denied any knowledge of illegal arms sales or shipments.  He claims he was "out of the loop."

On October 11, 1986 there was a little-noticed story at the bottom of page one of The Miami Herald.  It was written by Washington bureau staffer Alfonso Chardy:

The National Security Council and the Office of Vice President George Bush shared responsibilities in setting up the elaborate supply system that came to light with the downing of an American-manned aircraft in Nicaragua last week, knowledgeable administration officials said Saturday.

The administration officials said that while the NSC recruited technical and logistical personnel retired from the CIA or Army Special Forces in establishing the network, the vice president's staff concentrated on organizing Cuban exiles in Miami.

Spokesmen for the White House and the vice president's office on Saturday repeated denials that the U.S. government was involved in any way in efforts to provide military supplies to the anti-Sandinista rebels.

Now, six years later, no knowledgeable Washington insider doubts the accuracy of Chardy's story, but no special prosecutor has yet produced one live witness who would swear in court that both Reagan and Bush knew and were directly involved in the illegal Contra supply network.  Tom Polgar, a staff member on the congressional committees that investigated the operation, characterizes Bush's protestations of ignorance as "total nonsense."  Yet, until someone comes forward who worked with Bush or his aides on the inside and knows that the then-Vice President had knowledge of the actual arms supply operation, Bush can't be charged with a crime.

One of the first cracks of light to hit that operation came with the downing of the American-manned aircraft mentioned in Chardy's Herald story.  The only surviving crewman, Eugene Hasenfus, was captured and paraded before reporters in Managua.  Hasenfus said that a Cuban-American veteran of the Bay of Pigs named "Max Gomez" helped coordinate the aerial supply network from an airbase at Ilopango in El Salvador.  According to Hasenfus, Gomez told his associates at Ilopango that he reported to Vice President George Bush, a member of the National Security Council, about his activities.  It was Bush's adviser on the NSC, Donald Gregg, who helped arrange the private Contra network.

When reporters caught up to Bush on a campaign swing through North Carolina, he acknowledged that he had met Gomez three times and described him as "a patriot," but Bush refused to answer questions about his knowledge of the supply network.

It wasn't long before it became known that the man Hasenfus had known as "Max Gomez" was really Felix Rodriquez, the legendary CIA agent and close pal of Jorge Mas.  (Rodriguez would later claim he adopted the moniker of "Max Gomez," a hero of Cuba's war of independence, when he arrived in El Salvador, but, oddly enough, "Max Gomez" was also listed in the address book confiscated by Venezuelan police from Orlando Bosch.)  Rodriquez had worked with Bush's adviser Donald Gregg, also a CIA veteran, in Vietnam.  When that became known, Gregg refused any comment, but Marlin Fitzwater, a spokesman for Bush, said, "There is no one on the vice president's staff who is directing or coordinating an operation in Central America.  Allegations to that effect are simply not true."

Later, Rodrigues issued a statement, distributed by Bush's office, that he was only "marginally involved" in the effort to aid the Contras, and ex-CIA boss Bush said he did not know that ex-CIA agent Rodriguez was involved at all with the Contras, although his staff had been in contact with him at least a dozen times.  Telephone records from the house that Rodriguez used in El Salvador revealed he had also been in touch with Lt. Col. Oliver North at the White House.

Downed crewman Hasenfus had also mentioned that there was another Cuban exile named "Ramón Medina" who worked closely with "Max Gomez."  Ramón Medina, also a phony name, turned out to be another old buddy of Jorge Mas, Luis Posada.  Having somehow acquired about $28,600 to bribe his way out of that Venezuelan jail where he had been held with Orlando Bosch for bombing the Cubana airplane, Posada had been stashed away at various South American locations and supported by Miami exile friends until he somehow found a job with his old CIA associate Rodriguez.  It's a small world.

There's an interesting spin that was later put on all this by Rodriguez himself when he published his "autobiography," Shadow Warrior.   Rodriguez says that after he retired from the CIA in 1976 (having been given the Agency's highest honor, the Intelligence Star for Valor, mainly for having helped capture and eliminate Che Guevara), he was sitting around getting angry watching Castro "aiding and abetting antidemocratic insurgencies" in Latin America.  So he began creating his own "counterinsurgency plan," featuring the liberal use of bombers and helicopter gunships and, as he put it, "the best elements of what I learned in Vietnam."  Then, through his contacts in the U.S. government, he tried to sell himself and his plan to certain Latin American countries.  He admits he was helped by his old Vietnam boss, Donald Gregg, and was introduced to Ollie North, who helped him make contact with the Salvadoran government to work as a "consultant."  His point is that he never got orders from Bush adviser Gregg, he just kept Gregg advised. ("When I told Don Gregg of the progress I was making, he was delighted.")  Truth is hard to come by amid all the book's mirror images, but Rodriguez does neglect to mention that when Hasenfus' plane went down, Vice President Bush's office was one of the first in Washington to learn of the crash.  It received a call from Felix Rodriguez.


It is important now that the nature of Jorge Mas' relationships with Felix Rodriguez and Luis Posada appear inconsequential.  In fact, there was an intensive exchange of information about what was happening at the Ilopango arms supply operation.  Records indicate, for instance, that Posada made a number of calls from his San Salvador safe-house telephone to Miami.  In addition to calling his wife, Posada was in touch with Dr. Alberto Hernandez, one of the members of the Cuban American National Foundation closest to Mas.

The connection between Rodriguez and Mas is also very tight.  In his book, Rodriguez mentions Mas only twice, calls him a "longtime friend" from whom he refused the offer of a lawyer at his congressional hearing.  That only hints at the nature of their alliance.  A freelance pilot who had also worked out of Ilopango recently ran into Rodriguez at the Solder of Fortune convention in Orlando.  That's sponsored by Soldier of Fortune Magazine, the bible of gung-ho mercenaries published by ex-Army Captain Bob Brown, a veteran of the intelligence community.  In the pilot's conversation with Rodriguez, Jorge Mas' name came up.  Rodriguez mentioned that TV's 60 Minutes was working on a feature about Mas.  "Felix looked at his watch," the pilot recalls, "and said, 'In fact, Jorge is probably doing the interview right now."  Mas is extremely security conscious, few people know his movements in advance.  That Rodriguez should know what Mas was doing at a particular minute on a particular day says something about their relationship.

"I saw Felix come into our offices in Miami many times," says a former business associate of Mas. "I thought he was weird, with his black gloves and his briefcase, but whenever anyone asked Mas who he was, Mas would say, 'Oh, that's the guy who killed Che Guevara.'"

From the moment it began its grand crusade to turn back the spreading plague of Communism in Latin America, the Reagan Administration considered the Cuban American National Foundation one of the major weapons in its Project Democracy arsenal.  "The Foundation became very much involved in the Contra effort," remembers former founding director Raul Masvidal, who also recalled the weekly inside briefings.   "There was no question there was some kind of intelligence link.  That's when Mas developed the theme, 'The road to Havana goes through Managua.'  He kept repeating it until we actually started to believe that in order to overthrow Castro we had to first join forces with the Contras."
Mas himself began taking frequent trips to Ilopango.  He didn't keep it a secret within his circle.  An associate who still works with him has direct knowledge:  "I heard a conversation about arms dealing with Salvador for weapons to be transferred to Ilopango and then to the Contras.  I witnessed that."

Not all the Foundation members were in favor of the involvement, Masvidal among them.  "I remember Jorge clearly trying to convince me when I started protesting that we were getting involved too much in issues that were not related to Cuba and that I felt we were being used.  And when I voiced that, Jorge immediately called me a traitor, called me every name in the book.  When I took opposition to him, Jorge felt I was betraying the whole effort.  But there was no question that Jorge was making promises to Washington.  'Oh, you want this?  I'll deliver it.  You want that?  I'll deliver it.'  It was part of the CIA's way of masking or getting around the law and Jorge and the Foundation were a part of it."

One of the mysteries that congressional investigators were not able to solve was the presence of Luis Posada with Felix Rodrigues in Ilopango.  How did the international fugitive get there?  Was he sprung from his Venezuelan prison specifically to get involved in the illegal Contra arms network?  Investigators couldn't ask Posada because as soon as his name emerged he had disappeared.  (It was later learned that he was running a clandestine security force for Guatemala president Vincio Cerezo, but after a bloody attempt on his life, he fled again into hiding, where he still is.)

Rodriguez danced around the questions with investigators.  In his book, he acknowledges knowing about Posada's jail break and giving him a job at Ilopango after being "contacted by an individual who explained Posada's predicament."  He says he told neither his resupply crews nor Oliver North the real name of "Ramón Medina."  And, he pointedly notes, "I certainly didn't mention anything to [George Bush's aide] Don Gregg."

Jorge Mas has publicly denied he was involved in either helping Posada escape or getting him the job at Ilopango.  Among his Foundation friends, however, he has not been reticent.  More than one past member as well as a present associate claim Mas talked about both playing a role in raising the money to finance Posada's escape and in helping the fugitive get his job with the illegal supply network.

A former vice president of the Foundation, Jose Luis Rodriguez, is more specific.  He admits he was both solicited for and contributed to the fund to provide Posada the money to bribe his way out of the Venezuelan jail.  The matter, he says, was first brought up at the same board meeting at the Breakers Hotel where USIA boss Charles Wick was a guest.  Mas immediately ruled that it was an "inappropriate" time to discuss it.  Subsequently, it was done more privately.  As a reminder of his contribution, Rodriguez has a painting which Posada did while in jail.  It's of a beautiful palomino horse running free.

(José Rodriguez, by the way, claims his split with the Foundation came after Mas' assertion of power forced out respected executive director, Frank Calzon.  He said he was asked to help spread personal rumors about Calzon, and that disgusted him.  Rodriguez says resigning was considered an act of disloyalty and the inside clique of directors, with whom he was in on a number of major business ventures, began short-changing him on the deals.  He claims Mas uses his Foundation connections for personal financial aggrandizement, parlaying business deals with his inside clique into millions of dollars.  A private investigation has linked Mas to more than 36 different corporations.)


Although Jorge Mas' extremely close relationship with both Felix Rodriguez and Luis Posada indicates his intimate knowledge of the illegal Contra arms supply network and its White House overseers, the hardest evidence that he was directly involved in it comes straight from the guy who held the strings, Ollie North.  In his notebooks, North jotted cryptic notes revealing Jorge Mas' role in Project Democracy.  Among them are indications that Mas served as an intermediary to the leaders of certain Latin American countries to pressure them to support the project.

Some entries were very specific:  On January 28, 1985, North wrote: "Felix Rodriquez – Expedite 50K for I.R."  Below it is the notation, "Jorge Mas".  Another entry noted, "Mtg. w/Felix Rodriguez -- Call Jorge Mas."  Included in North's notes were five different telephone numbers for Mas, including his private line at home.

That direct operational contact with the man supervising the Administration's illegal arms supply system, along with the working relationship with his close buddies on the line at Ilopango, gives Mas the knowledge that provides him his own special leverage with the Bush Administration.

"Without a doubt," says former associate Raul Masvidal.  He repeats it.  "Without a doubt.  No question that Jorge has been in meetings with Bush at the White House and with Bush's people when Bush was Vice President.  I know because I was around him at the time and I heard him talk about it."

Perhaps the most insightful comment comes from Luis Posada, of all people.  Posada had a secret meeting with Herald reporter Christopher Marquis after he was exposed and fled the Contra operation.  Posada is tired and maimed from the attack on him in Guatemala and he's trying to refurbish his image so he can return to his wife and family in Miami.  He gave Marquis a lengthy interview.  He had been in hiding for a while and probably didn't realize he was contradicting his old friends, Rodriguez and Mas.  Posada said Donald Gregg, national security adviser to Vice President George Bush, took a direct interest in the Contra supply project and helped with staffing problems.  When Marquis pointed out that both Bush and Reagan had denied any involvement in the affair, Posada, the battle-scarred CIA veteran, said:  "Listen to me.  The CIA had bases in Aguacate [Honduras] and at Ilopango.  We saw them every day.  Now, are you telling me that the President of the United States didn't know about this?"


The bottom line is this:  Jorge Mas has used the leverage his involvement and knowledge has given him to maintain a strangle hold on United States foreign policy in Latin America and Cuba.  Right now, when world political cataclysms demand a complete reassessment of the United States' historically unproductive relationship with Cuba -- a relationship that has provided Fidel Castro with the Looming Boogie Man threat he has used to rally internal support for 33 years -- Jorge Mas has forced the issues to be defined in his terms, dictated the boundaries of the conflicts and manipulated their resolution to meet his personal political agenda.  A bill that is now passing through Congress is a dramatic example of Mas' power to call the shots at every level of the U.S. government.

Magically entitled "The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992," the House bill was introduced by a liberal New Jersey Democrat, Robert Torricelli, for whom re-districting now means counting on the votes and money of North Jersey's Cuban exile community.  Torricelli's bill would tighten the embargo that the U.S. declared against Cuba 29 years ago.  Its features include prohibiting trade with Cuba by the subsidiaries of American corporations based abroad; prohibiting U.S. firms from taking tax deductions for expenses related to its subsidiary trade with Cuba; and restricting foreign ships that trade at Cuban ports from visiting U.S. ports.

The bill is Torricelli's baby but Jorge Mas is its Godfather.  It was seeded in Torricelli a year ago when he cruised Florida's Biscayne Bay aboard a luxury yacht with a dozen of Mas' wealthy exile friends.  Shortly after taking over the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Torricelli declared he would focus on Castro.  His second edict, according to a former aide, was: "Whatever the Foundation wants, the Foundation gets."   When Mas was invited to testify before the subcommittee last year and he refused to sit on the same panel with more liberal Cuban exiles, Torricelli ordered a second panel created for Mas -- an unprecedented perk for a Congressional witness.  But Mas never forgets a friend.   By late last spring, he and his pals had already kicked in more than $10,000 to Torricelli's campaign coffers.

The Torricelli bill was a near reductio ad absurdum of the United State's historic big- stick-no-carrots economic policy towards Cuba.  Former diplomat Wayne Smith viewed the Torricelli bill as more than a heavier stick, he saw it as "a blunderbuss aimed squarely at our own feet."  For some, it made little moral sense to inflict further suffering on the Cuban people in an attempt to topple a tyrant, especially when we were courting despots in North Korea and Vietnam and opening Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets off Tiananmen Square.
However, the bill appeared to have little chance of getting endorsed by the Bush Administration.  The State Department was strongly against it.  "It's self-destructive," said a Cuban desk officer.  "The ban on subsidiary trade provokes our allies."

And it did.  The British Foreign Trade Secretary bitingly noted, "It is for the British government, not the U.S. Congress, to determine the U.K.'s policy on trade with Cuba."  Canada also voiced its objection. The European Community sent a démarche announcing that the EC would not accept "the extraterritorial extension of U.S. jurisdiction," declared the bill in conflict with international law and said its economic disincentives would be "Draconian."  No way that Bush could back a bill that produced such hostile reaction from both within his own Administration and among necessary allies.

But Jorge Mas hadn't yet unsheathed his political muscle.  While everyone else was viewing the bill as a foreign policy issue, Mas also saw it as an  opportunity to advance his personal domestic political agenda.   After all, there just might be a new President next year and it was never too early to work both sides of the street -- especially when you knew you already had one side in your pocket.

The debates on the Torricelli bill in various committee and subcommittee hearings have produced, and will continue to produce, thousands of inches of newspaper stories, essays and opposing columns as it moves through the legislative process.  But the biggest headlines about it have already been printed.

Last April, Bill Clinton pulled a surprise raid on the hottest political turf in the country for Reagan-Bush, Miami's Little Havana.  Blasted the Herald's front page headline:  CLINTON BACKS TORRICELLI BILL: 'I LIKE IT,' HE TELLS CUBAN EXILES.  That afternoon, at a fundraiser at Victor's Café, he pulled in $125,000.  Earlier in the day, at a private party heavy with Hispanic donors in the Colonnade Hotel, he picked up another $150,000.  A month later, on Cuban Independence Day, he returned and was handed $100,000 by four Cuban American businessmen.

After that, President Bush was a patsy for Mas.  Having previously said he had "problems" with the Torricelli bill, Bush grabbed back the headlines with a declaration that would, by Executive Order, implement a new policy that was sneakingly similar to a provision in the bill.  The order would restrict further shipping to Cuba by prohibiting entry into U.S. ports by vessels that engage in trade with Cuba.

Bush's State Department, which had been vehemently against trade restrictions, kept diplomatically silent.  Off the record, one official admitted to a Herald reporter, "We're bending over on this and taking it."

Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer also spoke with insiders at State:  "State Department officials admit that Mr. Mas' Foundation...has been responsible for the fact that the United States has basically formulated no policy of its own toward Cuba because of fear of the Foundation's tactics....  To say that U.S. policy on Cuba at this crucial moment -- when the next and defining stage of Cuban history is being formed -- is thus being run by a bunch of nuts and ambitious egomaniacs is not too far from the truth."

Sticks and stones may break his bones, but Georgie Anne Geyers' words couldn't wipe the smile off Jorge Mas' face.  Didn't she realize what it was really all about?  Didn't she realize the whole Torricelli bill controversy, the maneuvering to get Bill Clinton to back it, the display of muscle that forced President Bush to do a perfect backflip -- all of it was a message to Fidel Castro.  It was to show him, after all these years, who still calls the shots here in Cuba America.  Jorge Mas has taught that lesson more than one time.


Jorge Mas smiles.  I have cornered him again, this time in the huge ballroom at the Radisson Mart Hotel near the Miami airport.  He has just pulled off a beautiful stunt.  He has gotten David Lawrence, the publisher of The Miami Herald, to shake hands with him immediately after he sucker-punched him.  Poor Lawrence was too stunned to realize what was happening, and too much of a gentleman to tell Mas to go screw himself.  Besides, for the sake of his newspaper, Lawrence was just happy the war was over and the hatchet had been buried -- even if it was in his own head.

"Now that you've made a peace agreement," I asked Mas, "Do you think David Lawrence understands you?"

Mas had to smile.  He knew what I meant.  "No," he said, quickly hiding his grin and diverting his answer to a brief speech about how his battle with the Herald would now result in it being more sensitive to the interests of the Cuban-American community.  Mas knew that's not what my question was about.  I wanted to know whether he thought that Lawrence, a big, bespectacled, preppy-type fellow with a pleasant smile and likely a good grasp of the Marquis of Queensberry rules, realized he had been beaten and bloodied by a battling bantam who knew only fingers-in-the-eyes, knees-to-the-balls gutter brawling, a street tough he should have avoided in the first place.  Of course, poor Dave still didn't realize that.  He might not have shown up for this staged "peace" encounter if he had.

The charity chiefs in the local Easter Seal Society had come up with the notion of having a fund-raising "Community Unity" luncheon, which wasn't a bad concept in itself.  Miami is disparity urbanized.  But the plan to get Jorge Mas Canosa and David Lawrence Jr. to stand before a few hundred major players in town, shake hands and announce for the sake of community unity they really loved each other and wouldn't fight no more, well, that could have used more review.

Mas set Lawrence up good.  On his way into the crowded ballroom Mas stopped and announced to reporters that the Cuban American National Foundation was calling off its campaign against The Miami Herald and its sister Spanish-language paper El Nuevo Herald.  "For the good of the community," he said.  So everyone thought that the major event, following a few brief fund-raising spiels for the Easter Seal Society, would come off as planned, with both Mas and Lawrence saying nice things about each other, gentlemanly refraining from declarations of victory, shaking hands and living happily ever after.  An Easter Seals coup for community unity.

Mas was first.  Later he would say he misunderstood the format.  He said he thought it was to be a mutual "roast," a humorous, verbal jabbing exhibition just for the entertainment of the crowd.  Jab, hell, Mas started with kidney punches.  He said Lawrence didn't realize what a major feud he was starting when he picked on the Cuban American community  "Let's face it, Dave," he taunted, "you never expected it."  He implied that Lawrence was a wimp, not enough of a man to put up a tough fight.  He ridiculed the publisher's attempts during the dispute to deal directly with Miami's Cuban community.  "And there you were, Dave, on Cuban television trying to speak Spanish and looking like a scared deer caught in a truck's headlights."  He also noted that Lawrence's Spanish was so atrocious he might as well have used sign language.

This was a peace meet?  Lawrence appeared numb but turned his gentlemanly cheek.  When his turn came, he acted as if he hadn't been sitting there when Mas was pummeling him.  He spoke only about how the Easter Seal Society had once helped his son, now a lawyer, to overcome a childhood disability.  Then, when he was finished, Mas rose again and, magnanimous  now, declared Lawrence a worthy adversary whom he personally respected.  Lawrence appeared dazed as Mas walked over, shook his hand for the cameras and formally announced the end of the Cuban American National Foundation's battle with The Herald.  Then, like a light slap of his glove and simply as a final reminder of who still called the shots, Mas added, "For the time being."  And as he raised his arms in victory before turning to leave, the cavernous ballroom seemed to fill with the misty echoes of a far away chant that came floating across the waters of the Florida straits....

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